The Hidden Danger of Nightly Homework Battles
You’ve probably seen the stories in the news: Homework in elementary school is useless.
Homework doesn’t help young kids learn any better or faster. It doesn’t teach them study skills. It doesn’t even help them do better on standardized tests.
I’m not going to get into a debate on the merits of homework in elementary school because research has proved that it does no good.
“Before going further, let’s dispel the myth that these research results are due to a handful of poorly constructed studies. In fact, it’s the opposite. Cooper compiled 120 studies in 1989 and another 60 studies in 2006. This comprehensive analysis of multiple research studies found no evidence of academic benefit at the elementary level. It did, however, find a negative impact on children’s attitudes toward school.”Homework is wrecking our kids
Despite all this, my second-grader still has homework nearly every night. This is the norm for most American families with kids in elementary schools.
When we get home after school, I remind my daughter to start her homework, remind her to stay focused while she’s doing it, and remind her to put it back in her backpack when it’s done. In other words, finding out she has homework that night signs us both up for a 30-minute (or more) nag session.
It’s not like you have a practical alternative. The teacher assigns homework, and your kid’s supposed to do it. If she doesn’t do it, she’ll be held in at recess to complete the homework anyway. And then at the end of the day, you get to reap the benefits of a kid who’s had to sit still all day.
But during one of our super fun homework nag-a-thons last week, something happened that scared me.
A Turning Point—And Not a Good One
About five minutes into the brainless busy work that bores my daughter out of her skull, she said: “I’m just not going to do this.”
“I’m just not going to do my homework. It doesn’t matter.”
I froze. “Well…,” I said, buying myself time. I could tell we were entering choppy waters, and one wrong move could capsize the boat and damage her attitude towards school. “What would happen if you didn’t do your homework?”
Abby shrugged. “I’d probably just get in trouble with the teacher.”
This was big. My rule-following, perfectionist child does not shrug about getting “in trouble” with the teacher.
“Hmm,” I said. “What would that mean?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’d get my name on the board.” She shrugged again. Any previous hand slaps from the teacher resulted in tears and long conversations when I picked her up from school. Why was she shrugging it off now?
“What else would happen?” I prodded, trying to keep my tone light and curious, but obviously failing.
“Okay, fine. I’ll do it. But I’m just going to make up answers to get it over with.”
My eyes bugged, but thankfully she wasn’t looking. My child who once had a meltdown over not getting a perfect grade on a spelling test in first grade was planning to write incorrect answers on her homework just to get it out of the way.
“So…what will happen if you do that?” I asked.
She sighed. “I guess she’ll make me do it over again. But this is so boring! My grades don’t matter anyway.”
My grades don’t matter anyway. The words started on repeat in my brain, getting louder and shriller with each iteration.
And I realized: Homework did this to my child. My bright child who’s hungry to learn anything and everything. My child who reads as much as she can get her hands on. My child who said to me yesterday, “Is there a place where you can go and just read books all day? Because I want to go there.”
The endless worksheets had finally pushed her over the edge.
Related: What to Do When Your Kid Gives Up
Yes, Homework Is Pointless—But That’s Not the Worst Part
Homework is making my child resent school. It’s turning the idea of learning into a power struggle. And goodness knows we don’t need more of those while parenting young children.
Bottom line: Homework is destroying our kids’ innate love of learning.
The night after that disturbing homework battle, I started looking for alternatives.
- Could I ask the teacher not to assign homework to my child? Maybe, but it feels weird to ask for special treatment when other kids are in the same boat.
- Could I ask the teacher not to assign homework to any kids? Maybe, but it probably wouldn’t be effective coming from just one parent.
- Could I meet with the principal to suggest banning homework? Other schools have banned it, and the research supports removing it.
Yes, that’s it! That’s what I’ll do, I thought.
I started asking around about how I might approach a principal about this issue. I talked to teachers and other parents. And do you know what I heard?
Elementary school teachers and principals already know that homework doesn’t do any good. They know it hurts kids’ relationships with the learning process. They already know the research. I mean, of course they do—they’re trained professionals.
The real reason elementary schools assign homework? Parents keep asking for it.
Let’s Stop the Madness of Nightly Homework Battles
Maybe you feel like pushing your kid to struggle through homework is good for her work ethic. Maybe you feel like the worksheets will help her get better grades on standardized tests. Maybe you think it’s just 30 minutes of nagging your kid every night, then it’s over and done with and not a big deal.
That’s what I thought, too.
But deep down, we know better. We don’t really need to read all the research. Because we know. We see what the nightly homework battles do to our kids.
We know this in the same way we know that asking teachers to dole out corporal punishment hurts our kids emotionally as well as physically. We don’t need to read the research about the damage that goes deeper than the red welts left by a paddle. Parents know this already.
The good news? We have the power to opt out of the homework battles.
The First And Easiest Step
Let’s stop asking our elementary school teachers and principals to assign homework. Easy peasy.
Next step: Share your story with other parents.
- While you’re waiting outside school at pick-up time, tell the story of how you have to nag your kid every night, and for what? It’s not helping her grades.
- When you’re making small talk at the school fundraiser carnival, explain how your kid used to love school, but homework battles have soured him on the whole deal.
- If you run into your kid’s friend’s mom at Target, ask if her kid struggles with homework, too. Listen to her story.
I’m not saying you should try to convince anyone. In fact, sharing stats and research rarely changes people’s minds. So just tell your story. Share how you’re scared that homework battles are doing permanent damage to your kid’s love of learning. Find common ground with your fellow parents because I promise you, it’s there.
The fewer parents we have asking for homework, the better off our kids will be. And maybe one day, so few parents will be asking for it that grade-school homework will be the exception rather than the rule.
Because this isn’t about avoiding the nightly homework battles. This is about protecting the spark we see in our children’s eyes when they’re learning something new and loving it.
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
If the nightly homework battles are getting to you, you might find this useful, too: Here’s the Secret Phrase to Turn Your Kid Into an Amazing Student.
What do the nightly homework battles look like in your house? Share in a comment below!
Note: All information on this site is for educational purposes only. Happy You, Happy Family does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician.
YES!!! I fully agree with this! 7 hours of school is plenty for a young child-they shouldn’t have to keep doing it when they get home. My daughter’s 1st grade teacher last year sent home homework just about every night and we both hated it. This year, her 2nd grade teacher has told me that kids need time to be kids and she rarely sends any home. As a result, we’re able to spend more time reading (which is the best homework of all anyways) and playing.
My son has homework in Kindergarten Monday thru Thursday. It’s a nightmare trying to get it done. In school they are so busy trying to teach them what once used to be 1st grade curriculum that we are forced to teach them the stuff that used to be taught in Kindergarten at home. It is incredibly sad hearing my son at 6 saying he hates school.
Beautifully written! It’s been so depressing since my daughter started school 2 years ago to see how she’s gone from excited when I say, “Let’s do an experiment” or “Let’s go get a new book” to “I hate reading” and “I hate school.” We need to start a stop-the-homework movement!
I agree that ” Worksheet Homework” is Pointless. That is why I started talking to the people I work with about using “Invitations To Play” Instead to Practice or Review what they learned that day. I believe that children can’t be expected to sit for 6 hours a day. They need to engage.
Great points! It was also a nightmare for homework in our household. Last year for my 2nd grader, he would be working on his homework for 2 hours. Finally we broke it down into sections, and I set the timer. I said “let’s see if you can get the next section done in 10 minutes”. It really got him to focus. I always gave him more time than he needed.
I wish more parents and schools realized the research shows there are no proven benefits to doing homework! An alternative solution: Montessori schools. As families, we should be spending more quality time with our children, playing outside, eating dinner often at the dinner table, reading, and doing practical life work! This would make our children more well rounded as a “whole individual.” Children are natural learners and we need to inspire their tendency to seek out knowledge that they are genuinely interested in!
My child has just entered middle school and no longer has recess or PE, for an 11 year old boy that’s horrible. Not only do we have nightly homework, we now have weekend homework, projects and Monday tests. It is a constant battle and I don’t know how to make it any better. It is frustrating as a parent seeing my child not getting to play and have fun and get some good EXERCISE every day!
I have been a teacher for the past 21 years. I agree that homework for the sake of doing homework does not increase anything but frustration. I plan my day around the needs of my class. If someone doesn’t complete something due to difficulty, it makes no sense to send it home and have them continue to be frustrated. I hang onto the assignment and we work on it the next day. If a child is goofing off and not using his time wisely , he will get to take it home to complete the task. This is a rare occurrence. Most of my students love knowing that when school is over they get a break. We all need that!!!
Hate to be a buzz-kill, but all of the articles at the beginning of this article point to stories that base their findings on the same Harris Cooper study; therefore, they are redundant and not useful in corroborating the narrative.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree with the sentiments and story in this article. I too have the same conflicts with my 3rd grade daughter and I share the same findings on the efficacy of homework at this age.
The fact is that our teachers are teaching from the same patterns that they learned from. They are unable to remove themselves and look at the problem objectively. There is also a large contingency of pediatricians and researchers who look at the use of iPhones and other screen based technology and assert that it is harmful. The fact is that to truly make the next leap in human development, we need to innovate and move beyond the current paradigm and teach our kids in a manner consistent with what we ANTICIPATE their future needs to be rather than our own inefficient methods.
But you decided to point this out anyway to what? Look smarter than everyone else. Yet you agree with the overall message.? I bet you’re part of the grammar police brigade as well.
seems like he’s just playing devils advocate and suggesting that we come up with a paradigm that allows us to base our teachings on future issues the kids will face vs. on what we think they need to know (e.g. how to spell “faucet” in the first grade).. He also makes a good point that citing studies which all cite the same study will lesson the effectiveness of an argument made to someone who does NOT buy into this idea that homework is harmful. Good points, Zack!
As a teacher, i refuse to give homework and as a parent i would never enforce homework with my son.
The school must be clear on the purpose of homeworks/assignments. To measure how each student understood the day’s lessons. If the y don’t like assignments–a test the following day can also be an alternative to measure each students’ understanding but will take away few minutes or hour from regular classroom
Just one of the MANY reasons we finally started homeschooling! It’s heartbreaking. :(
We are really fortunate that there is minimal homework in our house this year and it’s all coming from our freshman. Neither my kindergartener nor my 5th grader have had homework this year. It’s wonderful and they get to leave school work at school.
My second grader did not have homework the first month of school, for this very reason. The teacher knew it took away from important family time, etc. However, once the kids started to struggle with the concepts in the classroom, they started getting a math sheet sent home every night to complete. I have the same struggles with my kiddo. He has almost said the very words your daughter has said. “Why?! It doesn’t matter anyway! We just throw it away! It isn’t for a grade.” And the list goes on and on. Thank you for sharing your story and trying to help everyone out there understand that some things cause more harm than good!
I am not sure I believe that parents are asking for homework. This sounds like a cop out to me that could be easily addressed by surveying parents at each grade level on their preferences and getting actual data. Then you would know parents’ opinions and see what approach to take.
As a kindergarten teacher, I believe that children should be free to be children after school, and not be saddled with busy work. The charter school where I currently teach is a no homework school, for which I’m so grateful, our children love to learn. When at a district 5 years ago, the parents were asking for homework, so I had to make worksheets to keep them happy. Those parents seemed to think that it made their children smarter if they had homework every night, so I had to comply to their wishes.
I’m still going to school for education. Do you think sending home sheets with only say, 5-6 problems on and the only instructions is for them to try, and its only so the teacher can evaluate understanding after it it entering their head at x point in the day and seeing what stuck and what needs reviewed on the next day, and do it gets a reward like a classroom treat or something?
As an elementary level teacher, I think that children need time away from the learning they’ve been doing all day in order to process the learning and to have time to make choices to read, to play, etc. If they haven’t learned a concept in 6 – 7 hours of school, boring worksheets are not going to strengthen their knowledge. When you go home after a long day, do you want to still be faced with paperwork? (Sorry, as a teacher you will be doing lots of work after hours, but is it helpful to do this to children?)
Intrinsic motivation is better than any reward system. Children who do things for rewards often will only do things if they can get something for it, and this can train them to be “getters” rather than “doers”.
Education at the early elementary levels is for the most part developmentally inappropriate, as is forcing children to continue busy work after school. We want children to love learning, but how can they when the work is tedious and of little value to their real learning?
They. Were. Aweful. My kiddo was also 8 and in second grade. The homework battle each night was causing huge upheaval in our home and I knew it was not good for my 8 year old, or his 2 year old twin brothers, or my husband, or I. My son had also come to hate school and lost his love of books. I did not particularly want to homeschool, but for this reason, I knew I had to do something to protect my son and our family, and we started 3rd grade as a homeschool family. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been way better than what was happening the other way.
I love this article so much – I will show it to my teacher